Looking Out for Cattle Country
By Rep. Dusty Johnson
January 27, 2023
I‘m heading to the 65th Annual Black Hills Stock Show this weekend. It’s one of my favorite events of the year – a midwestern city becomes a “slice of the Old West” – when cowboys and ranchers come from across the country. As I shake hands and greet folks, year after year, I’m reminded of the uphill battles our ranchers face every day. The next generation of ranchers needs positive change, and that’s what I’m working on in Congress.
The beginning of 2020 and beyond brought a great deal of havoc to the cattle industry. Black swan event after black swan event made it harder for ranchers, packers, and grocers to keep up with demand. With short supply of meat in grocery stores, prices skyrocketed, causing stress on the American consumer. Even though there was short supply in the stores, packers were at capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions in the workplace. Ranchers suddenly had nowhere to sell their cattle – and if they could find a processor with space, the price the ranchers were getting was dismal.
Cattle country needs solutions – it needs options – more healthy competition and more slaughter capacity.
This week, I dropped two cattle-focused bills – the Butcher Block Act and A-PLUS Act – to do both of those things. Though the Butcher Block Act has been implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it isn’t law yet – eventually the funding for USDA’s pilot program will run out without a long-term solution propping it up. I want to ensure the livestock industry will always have tools available to expand capacity and respond to market demand.
The Butcher Block Act helps new and expanded livestock or small meat processors by establishing a loan or grant program through USDA for construction and expansion. The cattle processing space is too concentrated – my bills give producers options of where to sell – making them less dependent on the big four. The A-PLUS Act revises the Packers and Stockyards Act to clarify that livestock auction owners may invest in small meat packers – putting small packers on equal footing with the big packers. Both bills will give ranchers more options and processors more shackle space to help meet the need of increasing the capacity by 5,000-6,000 head of cattle per day.
We know life is unpredictable. What we need is greater stability – not just for the ranchers, but for small packers, grocers, and consumers. That’s what these bills will produce – stability. I’m looking forward to leading these bills in Congress and securing more wins for cattle country.